Surrounded by lush scenery in Harvard, Massachusetts is the Jenson-DeLeeuw Net-Zero Energy House by Paul Lukez Architecture. The dwelling is often referred to as Rivendell by the owners, a reference to J.R.R. Tolkien’s elvish village in Middle Earth. Rivendell uses various systems to harness copious amounts of solar energy and features several passive design strategies that allow for thermal comfort and airflow.
The project uses a dual clean-energy system that generates and conserves solar energy. The angled roof maximizes the energy production of 56 photovoltaic roof panels, which produce 21,000 kWh of solar power each year. 16kWh Sonnen batteries store surplus energy and are part of a split heating and cooling system. This solar energy system is a lower-cost alternative to standard HVAC systems and is more eco-friendly. Rivendell also has a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) score of -23, meaning that it produces 23% more clean energy than similar-sized homes. As a result, the excess energy can be used in cloudy weather or to power the owners’ Chevrolet Bolt electric car.
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Passive design strategies are key in optimizing the home’s thermal comfort. During the warmer months, the large roof overhangs shield the interior from the intense summer sun. Additionally, the open floor plan and high ceilings enhance airflow and cool the space with natural breezes. Conversely, in the winter, the project’s large south-facing windows bring in natural light and warmth from the low-angled winter sun. This is supplemented by insulated walls and a wood stove in the living space for extra heating on colder days.
The architects created a thermal envelope using Huber Engineered Woods’ Zip System. This high-efficiency sheathing enhances insulation and prevents moisture buildup. Visually, the weathered wood cladding alludes to the wooded, rocky landscape and reinforces Rivendell’s connection to the site.
By maximizing solar energy and creating a thermal envelope through passive design strategies, the Jenson-DeLeeuw house successfully achieves net-zero principles and creates a comfortable living environment. Its self-sufficiency also prevents cutting down trees in the woods for the installation of utility infrastructure. Alongside its incredible efficiency, the Rivendell house also creates visual connections to its surroundings and celebrates the beautiful scenery.
Photography by Greg Premru